Retired reliever dishes on former teammates, top opponents
By Terence Moore
Here's why I just sighed while thinking about LaTroy Hawkins: At 43, he keeps every molecule of his 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds in shape. Even so, Hawkins isn't flashing any signs of reneging on his promise two Januarys ago to make 2015 his 21st and last season pitching in Major League Baseball.
Such a shame. After the Royals knocked Hawkins and his Blue Jays out of the American League Championship Series last October, he headed back to his home in Prosper, Texas, and his professional baseball life was over. Well, he did surface this spring as a special instructor for the Twins -- the first of his 11 Major League teams -- but he said he is retired from the sport.
Not only was Hawkins a splendid competitor, ranking 10th on the all-time list of pitchers for games played at 1,042, but he finished each season as one of baseball's nicest guys. Among other things, he bought a tailor-made suit for all first-year pitchers on his team, because that's what Kirby Puckett did for Hawkins when he joined the Twins as a rookie in 1995.
So it only makes sense to ask this baseball renaissance man of more than two decades a couple of things: Are you really, really, really retired? If so, could you please come back?
"No, I'm not coming back," Hawkins told me without blinking, before he added a smile of conviction.
Now that we've got that out of the way, here's what I also asked Hawkins: Could you name the best of the best during your tenure in the Major Leagues?
For instance ...
Who was the best reliever you saw?
"Mariano Rivera. He was absolutely incredible," said Hawkins, describing the master of the cut fastball with the Yankees. "To do what he did for as long as he did using that one pitch -- and to have the command, the strikeouts and all of those postseason appearances -- it's got to be Mariano. By far."
Who was the best starting pitcher?
"Who was the best one that I ever played with?" said Hawkins, with wide eyes, before I told him to do both. So he thought, and then he sifted through all of those teammates he played with through the years, and he said, "Greg Maddux has to be the best I've played with. As for the best I've seen in general, let's see."
"I'd have to pick ... Maddux ... again," Hawkins said, laughing. "He's in the same category as Mariano. Unbelievable. The thing with Maddux, I had a chance to play with him [on the Cubs], and that makes him more impressive, because I had a chance to see how he went about his business every day."
Who was the best everyday player on any of your teams?
"Oh, wow, that's a tough one," Hawkins said, thinking, and then after a while, he raised his head to say strongly, "It's A-Rod. I played with [Alex Rodriguez] or against him every year that he's been in the Major Leagues. I even played against him in the Minor Leagues. His numbers speak for themselves.
"People forget that he also was a great shortstop. He just did a bunch of incredible things. And I know you're going to ask who was the best I played against, but I'm going with A-Rod both ways."
What was the best team you ever played for?
"Even though we didn't make the playoffs, it had to be the 2012 Angels," said Hawkins, referring to a group that included Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Torii Hunter, Hawkins' neighbor in Prosper and former teammate on the Twins. "That was really a good team. It's the best I've ever been on, and by then, I had been to the World Series with Colorado [in 2007]. On paper, that Angels team was stacked, but we just couldn't do anything right.
"We also had teams in our division that had great years. Texas and Oakland were incredible that year, and we weren't incredible enough."
What was the best team you played against?
"Probably one of those Yankees teams," Hawkins said, referring to the last pinstriped dynasty that owned five World Series championships between 1996 through 2009. "Pick one ... 1996, 1998, 1999. Those teams were tough. They had experience in the bullpen and in their rotation. Plus, they just had a bunch of professional hitters. They knew how to keep fouling off balls, and they caused you, as a pitcher, to make mistakes."
Which team did you enjoy playing for the most?
"I'd have to go with the Minnesota Twins, and that's just because it's the team that drafted me [in the seventh round in 1991]," Hawkins said. "It's also the team that gave me my first big league experience, and I went to the playoffs with them for the first time. Then all my friends in the Minor Leagues, we all came up and had a chance to experience that together. I'd pick either one of those, probably the 2002 or 2003 Minnesota Twins team."
OK, I fibbed a little.
One more time: Why won't you come back?
"My daughter is a freshman in high school, so it's about that time to hang it up, and it's a family decision overall involving everybody," Hawkins said. "Mentally, I can still do it. Physically, that's the question. I don't feel , but I do feel like I've got 1,000 something games in this arm."
That's because he does.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.